February 9th, 2010 | By Crankdatdu1
ORONO, Maine — no need to panic. Not yet anyway.
Despite the double dip at Maine, the University of New Hampshire hockey team still controls its destiny as far as the Hockey East regular-season title goes.
However, the Wildcats' margin for error is much slimmer following back-to-back losses at Alfond Arena.
"We can't take much out of this weekend other than the fact ... it's not the end of the world," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "Obviously it tightens everything up and we'll go back home and we've just got to look forward and try to finish strong in the league. Right now it's wide open and anybody can win it."
UNH (13-10-4 overall, 12-5-3 HE) remains in first place, three points ahead of Boston College and Maine, who are tied for second.
Both have a game in hand on the Wildcats, who play the next three and five of their last seven games at home. Massachusetts is in fourth with 22 points, five behind UNH, which fell from ninth to 16th in the PairWise rankings with the two setbacks.
"We still have an edge in the Hockey East standings," said senior co-captain Peter LeBlanc. "We've just got to come out next week and play hard and get a win."
Of greater concern might be the Wildcats inability to hold a lead. They've squandered two-goal leads in four of the last six games. The first two they came back to win in overtime, but against Maine they fell apart after going up 2-0 both nights.
The Black Bears score three unanswered goals in Friday night's 3-2 win and four straight goals in a 6-3 victory Saturday night.
"We didn't play our best as a team defensively," said senior co-captain Bobby Butler. "Once we had a two-goal lead we just weren't ready to stick a knife in 'em and it hurt us."
In each instance the Black Bears scored a power-play goal to ignite their offense and the Wildcats, who have lost three of four, failed to respond.
"They got a lot of momentum off their power play," LeBlanc said.
"We needed some kind of spark to get some momentum," Maine coach Tim Whitehead after Saturday night's game. "UNH transitions so good. we made a couple mistakes and, boom, it was in our net. so we needed some kind of spark in the second period and it was great to get it on the power play."
Maine, which entered the weekend with the top-ranked power play in the nation, went 3 for 9 with the man advantage in the two games against UNH.
"Disappointed we didn't get any points out of a four-point weekend," Butler said. "We've got to come back and put it out of our heads. It's a tough barn to play in. The next time we go to a barn like this we've got to play our best. We've got to work defensively and the offense will come."
UNH will try to take advantage of a favorable schedule down the stretch. The Wildcats host Providence on Friday night, then play Vermont in a two-game series at the Whittemore Center the following weekend.
They close out the regular season with home-and-home series against Northeastern and BC.
"We've just got to get back to playing how we can play," Butler said. "We've got to play good at the right time. Hopefully losing up here twice will open our eyes and get us going."
Maine (14-9-3, 11-6-2 HE), which started the year 1-5, extended its unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1). The Black Bears also snapped their five-game losing streak against UNH at Alfond Arena.
Overall, the Wildcats had won nine of the previous 11 games against their archrival before last weekend.
"Any time you can win games it helps your confidence," Whitehead said, "particularly if you can come from behind. to take four points at home from UNH where they had won five in a row against us, we felt it was a big opportunity for us to make a statement and let everyone know we're back."
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UNH played the series without freshman forwards Greg Burke of Lee and Dalton Speelman. both sat out with shoulder injuries suffered in the same game the previous weekend against Merrimack.
Freshmen Austin Block and Scott Pavelski were in the lineup Friday night. Freshman Connor Hardowa replaced Block as the fourth-line center on Saturday.
Hardowa was making his college debut at forward. he played the first 17 games and 18 of the first 19 on defense, but was a healthy scratch in the seven contests before Saturday night.
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Told to shoot more, junior forward Phil DeSimone extended his point streak to nine games with a goal in each game over the weekend. he has five goals and 11 points during that stretch.
DeSimone scored after a nifty curl-and-drag move Friday night to give UNH a 2-0 lead in the second period, and Saturday night whipped a backhander home from the slot midway through the third period to cut the Maine lead to 4-3.
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Butler had a seven-game point streak snapped Friday night. he assisted on DeSimone's goal Saturday for his team-high 37th point.
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The future looks bright for Maine, which dressed 13 freshmen and sophomores in each game.